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Birds of a Lesser Paradise: Stories Hardcover – March 6, 2012
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Amazon Best Books of the Month, March 2012: Megan Mayhew Bergman’s collection of stories contains all of the elements that, it could be said, make up the very best in short fiction: each story is beautiful, full of palpable pain or joy--sometimes both--all loosely connected and based on the types of figures we’ve all known in our lives. But what sets this collection of stories apart is that each sentence feels sturdily crafted, each ending feels satisfying in a way short fiction rarely does. Mayhew Bergman does something exceptional with Birds of a Lesser Paradise--she quickly constructs a world filled with animals and nature and family who hate and love and mostly need one another--and it feels complete. --Alexandra Foster
“Birds of a Lesser Paradise is an astonishing debut collection, by a writer reminiscent of such greats as Alice Munro, Elizabeth Strout and even Chekhov. Expertly delivered, Bergman's stories bloom from the minutiae of life. They confirm the inescapable power that nature--and our own biology--has over us.”
– Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants
“Megan Mayhew Bergman apparently possesses, all in one sensibility, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s love of a back-to-the-land self-sufficiency, Amy Hempel’s infinite tenderness towards animals, and Tillie Olsen’s fierce sense of the emotional intensities of motherhood. Birds of a Lesser Paradise features characters who, even understanding it as well as they do, want to mother the world, and their stories are rendered with dazzling compassion, intelligence, and grace.”
– Jim Shepard, author of You Think That’s Bad
“A big-hearted collection of stories—each one a precise and compassionate study of human life, the changes and obstacles—all carefully housed under the miracles and marvels of nature. Megan Mayhew Bergman is a brilliantly gifted writer who recognizes and highlights life's fragilities in a way that will leave your heart aching while also finding those bits of hilarity and absurdity that bring uniqueness to each and every creature.”
– Jill McCorkle, author of Going Away Shoes
“I predict that astronomers will soon be renaming the star Sirius to Megan Mayhew Bergman. Birds of a Lesser Paradise offers us a spectacular new voice in the world of American short fiction. The characters in these stories—each one—perform as beacons on who we are and how we should act, all without pretense or exhortation. This is a first-rate collection.”
—George Singleton, author of The Half-Mammals of Dixie
"Bergman's excellent stories are hard-earned and well-honed. Her characters speak as if their very lives depend upon getting it right, getting it down, facing the toughest stuff that tumbles down with equal toughness and enduring resilience. A very fine and impressive debut."
–Brad Watson, author of Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives
"Readers will be shocked, amazed, and always entertained by the work of this accomplished writer of short fiction." --Booklist
"A top-notch debut... that deserves big praise. The beginning, one suspects, of a fine career." --Kirkus
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Megan Mayhew Bergman's short story collection, Birds of a Lesser Paradise, is a definite find. Sometimes moving, sometimes funny, sometimes insightful, these stories depict women's interactions with nature in its many forms--biological, zoological, and psychological--and how sometimes you just don't understand its influence.
There are a number of terrific stories in this collection, but among my favorites were "Housewifely Arts," which told of a woman and her son driving to a zoo nine hours away from her home so she can find a parrot that used to belong to her mother and imitated her voice perfectly; "Yesterday's Whales," the story of an advocate for population control who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant; "The Two-Thousand-Dollar Sock," which followed a woman's struggles with motherhood, honey-seeking bears, and a sick dog; and the title story, about a naturalist and her father who are led into the swamp by a mysterious stranger, searching for an elusive woodpecker.
Some of the stories resonated more for me than others, and only one or two didn't quite hit the mark. I was really taken by Bergman's voice and her ability to occupy and embody so many different narrators and imbue them with great depth. Some of the characters are similar, and at first glance I wondered if some of the stories were interconnected, but the more the stories unwound, I realized their differences. While some of the situations her characters find themselves in may be hard to identify with, nothing was ever unrealistic, and that added to the stories' appeal.
As I've commented many times before, when short stories are done right, they captivate you and leave you wanting to know more about the characters when the stories are finished. With this collection, I felt that way nearly all the time, and I would have loved to know what happened to some of these women after the last sentence of their stories.
This is a tremendously enjoyable, refreshingly candid, and well-written collection I'd definitely recommend to short story fans. And Bergman is an author to watch!
My one major complaint is that these stories seem to echo over and over again within the same thematic space. I'm fine with fiction not offering solutions and only exploring issues, emotions, but exploring the same set of ideas again and again does grow grating after 200 pages. Still, this is strong, powerful fiction with precise language.
Worth reading for any fans of the modern short story.
The style of writing is very easy to read, intelligent and kind. The author's love for animals is obvious, also her concern for nature and the earth as a whole.
I particularly liked the first story 'Housewifely Arts'. It's the story of a grieving single mother who attempts to track down the pet parrot who could imitate her dead morher's voice.
' I tried to remember the way her clothes smelled, the freckles on her clavicle, her shoe size, the sound of her voice. When I couldn't find those things in my memory I decided to take Ike on a field trip.' - p.2
The stories are touching, heartbreaking even, but never sentimental. I enjoyed these 12 stories so much I immediately bought Bergman's next story, 'Phoenix'.